Home > Where Winter Finds You (Black Dagger Brotherhood #17.5)(3)

Where Winter Finds You (Black Dagger Brotherhood #17.5)(3)
Author: J.R. Ward

As his eyes had flashed peridot, his brain had imagined what it would be like. At first, the water would infiltrate through seams and vents, a trickle, not a rush. But that would change as he used the last of the electrical system’s power to lower the windows. After that, he would sit and wait for his drowning to take place, probably with his hands still on the wheel, maybe not, his seat belt remaining pulled across his chest, his clothes dampening and then clinging to his warm body with the clammy touch of the corpse he would soon become.

He would not struggle. He would keep his eyes open. He imagined himself feeling a calmness that had been missing since all the light in his world went out in that hospital room about twenty miles, and some distance underground, away from where he himself would die. He would be so relieved. Even as the water reached his throat, then proceeded over his mouth and into his nose and ears, even as his body temperature tried to rally against the icy submersion and failed to conserve any warmth, even as his air supply dwindled to that which was in his lungs and no more, he would be at peace.

The death throes, when they came—and they would, for his body was, as all were, evolutionarily adapted for survival, the conscious mind in charge only up to a dire point, whereupon autonomic function took over and things went haywire—would thrash him about in the bucket seat, throwing his head forward and back, his mouth opening and drawing in water as a reflex, as a desperate hope that his lungs were merely being denied oxygen as opposed to there being none available to them. He was under no illusions that it would be easy. There would be suffering from the suffocation, burning inside his body, perhaps even some last-moment panic kicked over his mortal transom by the lizard part of his brain.

But then it would be over. Done with. The whole miserable biological accident of his life dusted, in the bin, over and out.

A void, and nothing more.

Which was heretical.

As a Shadow, he had been raised in a slightly different belief system than regular vampires. His people, an evolutionary extension within the fanged species, relied a great deal on the stars in the sky, the traditions of the s’Hisbe a variant of what was accepted as the way the afterlife worked. The core tenets, however, were the same for both. It was like Protestants and Catholics—same essential language, but different dialects—and as such, his kind, too, had the theory that after you died, you went up unto the Fade, and lived out eternity with your loved ones under the benevolent auspices of the Scribe Virgin. Assuming you hadn’t been a total douche down on earth. If you had been an asshole, you were relegated to Dhunhd, also known as Hell, which was where the Omega and his minions hung out. Either way, your conduct over the course of your mortal nights determined your final zip code, and there was something after your last breath to look forward to—or dread—depending on your worthiness.

It was an okay theory, and a construct that he understood was, in its own fashion, to be found on the human side of things as well. Not the Fade or Dhunhd, perhaps, not the Scribe Virgin or the Omega, exactly, but rather other, similar belief systems that covered both how you treated yourself and others while you were mortal, and also considered what happened to you after your coil, so to speak, got popped. Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and countless other religions, they were all efforts to give more of a vista after death than just a coffin and a grave. Or a pyre.

He knew from pyres.

God, did he ever.

What he no longer knew from, however, what he no longer believed in, was all the rest of that stuff. He’d never been particularly spiritual, but man, you didn’t know how much you had been until you were not any longer.

At all.

Anyway, prior to the whole truck/intersection/almost-obliteration thing, he had been considering what was not exactly a sin, but rather a really, very not-so-hot idea. Assuming you were a believer. In the lexicon of both vampires and Shadows, if you took your own life, that was it. No Fade for you, motherfucker. Now, no one had been able to provide him with a good explanation of what the alternative repercussions were—sure, lore had it you were closed-door’d on the whole Fade thing. But where did you end up? Dhunhd? Worm food? Who knew. Yet everyone and their uncle was damn clear on the fact that you weren’t going to be elbows deep in people you liked for the next jabillion years.

The message apparently being, if you took your own life, well, then, to hell with you if you didn’t appreciate the gift you were given at birth.

Yeah, like this whole breathing/heart-beating thing had been such a fucking prize, these years he’d been upright and walking around such a goddamn joy. He’d been destined for a loveless mating since the night he was born, been responsible for the senseless suffering of both his parents, watched a dear friend get tortured by a psychotic cunt for a good twenty years—that was fun—been a pimp, a drug dealer, and an enforcer.

Real partridge-in-a-pear-tree shit.

And then that heaping sundae of shit-chip ice cream—which he’d self-medicated with an outstanding sex addiction, thank you very much—had been cherry-topped by the granddaddy of all gut-wrenchers.

He’d met the female of his dreams, fallen in love… and, after what felt like twenty minutes of happiness, had had to hold her hand as she died of a wasting disease right in front of him.

Honestly, he hadn’t just been born under a bad star; he’d been born under one that kicked him in the nuts so badly, he’d coughed them out in his hand.

So now he was here, in this BMW he’d just bought, on this snowy night, during the motherfucking human season of cocksucking joy, contemplating suicide—only to have the GODDAMN ACCIDENT THAT COULD HAVE MADE IT ALL COME OUT ALL RIGHT DENIED TO HIM BY A SET OF ALL-SEASON RADIALS THAT HAD WORKED JUST FINE AT EVERY OTHER FUCKING INTERSECTION HE’D EVER DRIVEN THROUGH.

Not to put too fine a point on things.

But FFS, he couldn’t even have a chance to get dead in such a way that he could both end this bullshit AND not run afoul of the maybe truth that suicide got you, literally, nowhere.

Not that he believed in the afterlife anymore anyway. No matter what he’d thought he’d seen after Selena had died.

Hell, if there was anything that the last three months had taught him, it was that death was a hard stop. Especially if you were the one left behind.

Well, Trez thought, as he sped along in the snow, at least there was still the embankment option.

There was that to look forward to.

CHAPTER THREE

Her shadow lover came to her once again through the dense darkness of dream, his naked body pulling free of the ether, taking form before her. Tall and strong, wide of shoulder and long of leg, he was the fantasy made real in the realm of the subconscious, the representation of secret yearnings she held so dear they were in her soul.

Holding her arms up, she reached forward from her recline, and he came unto her without any entreaty, covering her with his warm, hard flesh so readily, it was as though he required her as much as she did him. His mouth, familiar and a shock at the same time, took her lips, drugging her with kisses, his tongue, his scent. Hands, broad and masculine, skimmed her breasts and her waist, going lower… ever lower.

As she moaned, she begged for his name without words. Her thoughts were known to him, and she told him through the magic that enveloped them that she needed the completion of his name, his call, his definition. There was no separate when they were like this, no him and her, no beginning or end. A whole.

It was ever a reunion when he came to her.

Ever the closing of a loop.

Ever a return to the home she had been thrown out of.

But he always left her. He never stayed. And it was too soon, the departure, no matter how long they had together.

If she only knew his name, though… he would be real. He would stay with her through the wakefulness that was the thief of him. He would be next to her rather than inside of her. His name would change everything…

Their bodies fell into place, the lock and the key, the question answered, the reason given for that which had been illogical.

The wound healed.

Tighter, she gripped him. Stronger, she pulled him to her. Harder, she concentrated on every shift of his body, every penetration of his sex, every surge of pleasure.

Always the parting.

No matter how long he was with her, he was always on the verge of leaving her behind, taking with him part of her heart, the cleaving a curse as much as the union was a blessing. He was beautiful moonlight eclipsed by the cloud cover; he was the still summer night interrupted by the violent storm; he was the warmth that flared before the brutal, numbing winter’s arrival.

He was the last sweet breath taken before drowning.

Tears, now. Tears torn from her.

Stay with me, she begged him. Just this once. Do not go—

For the first time, in all the years she had known him, he stopped and looked down into her eyes.

His hand trembled as he brushed her long, dark curls from her face.

When he did not reply, his silence said enough. Said it all.

There was no divide between never and ever for them. Theirs was the space in between known and unknown, between the finite and the endless, proof that love was the tie that bound, but it was a faulty trip wire, changing nothing when death created the distance.

In his silence, her heart broke.

Again…

…always.

* * *

Therese, blooded daughter of who the hell knew, shoved a hand into her cheap purse and pushed her wallet, a Kleenex pack, her ChapStick, and a hairbrush around. Change rattled on the very bottom and gave her brief hope, but her keys were still missing.

God, she was exhausted and she did not have time for this. That damn dream had kept her awake even as she’d slept, the dried tears on her face when she’d surfaced something she was really frickin’ sick of, thank you very much. How many years had her subconscious been coughing that stuff up?

Ever since she could remember. And even before the bad thing with her family—

Across the hall from her apartment, a muffled yell and the crash of a broken lamp—or maybe it was dishes again?—brought her head up. The door to her one-room flat was standard-sized in terms of height and width, but it didn’t seem thick enough. Although considering who else lived in this rooming house? She’d need one that was a foot deep and maybe made of something flame-retardant.

   
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